Advice / Succeeding at Work / Productivity

3 Simple Ways to Clear Your Inbox This Weekend

A logo with "the muse" in white text.

At this point, most of you already know that I'm a big fan of keeping a clear inbox. I don't go as far as insisting on inbox zero, but I usually recommend keeping only as many emails as you can see without scrolling down. (With my attention span, emails won't get any love if I can't see them.)

Now, this goal isn't so hard to maintain once your inbox is at that scroll-down-less state, but getting there—that’s a different story. The good news is, I’ve found the solution. If you're ready to take the next step towards inbox domination, here are some tricks to quickly cut your inbox down to size.

1. Do a Mass Archive

Let's start this off with a dose of reality: If an email has been in your inbox for more than two or three months, you are not going to answer it. Even if you wanted to, it's been there so long that answering is almost embarrassing. And if it was important, the sender has certainly sent you reminders. So search your inbox for emails received before the two-month mark, and archive every single one of them. It'll feel a little scary—but those emails would be no more likely to get your attention if you kept them in your inbox with those 6,347 other unread emails.

2. Search for the Culprits

You should now be down to a few hundred, maybe a thousand emails (if you're at several thousand, your cut-off for #1 should be one month or six weeks instead). Next, look for any regular newsletters or updates you get, such as new items from, LinkedIn updates, or Groupon deals. Do a search by sender (e.g., to pull them all up at once, then delete (or archive) everything that's older than a week. If you're being aggressive, I'd even say go for anything older than a day. Really, you aren’t going to look at yesterday’s Groupon deal, and you're unlikely to go back and sort through those emails in the future—or even tomorrow.

3. Make it a Game

Now, you should be down only to recent emails of substance—congratulations! If you have the courage, this is where you start slogging through and dealing with emails (with rewards like "When I get under 60, time for a coffee break!").

If you still have a good number of emails to deal with, turn it into a game. My two favorites are The Email Game (for when you're on your desktop) and the recently released Taskbox (for when you're on the go). The Email Game gives you five minutes to get through as many emails as possible, and rewards you with points. It also focuses on tackling 10-20 emails at a time, making your inbox battle feel more bite-sized.

Taskbox, on the other hand, is all about turning emails into tasks. When you're waiting in line at the store or the person you're meeting with is running late, you can use the app to take advantage of those extra minutes and quickly delete emails, add them to a task list, or respond to them. The app comes with pre-populated messages like "I'm on it" (which you can customize to include your most common responses) so you can answer super-quickly while on the go. You can also assign due dates and priorities to emails to make sure nothing slips through the cracks.

There you have it: Three easy steps to get your inbox down to size. So go get started—your reward will be a much more manageable inbox (and whatever else you want to treat yourself to!).

Tell us! What are some ways you manage your inbox?

Photo courtesy of Leo Chen.